Hope Together,  Heal Together: Tulalip Observes National Overdose Awareness Day

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

“We lost so many of our people to overdose,” vocalized Tashena Hill, Tulalip Overdose Detection Mapping and Application Program (ODMAP) Outreach Specialist. “It’s important to commemorate them, and respect and honor their life that they lost to drug overdose and let their families and our community know that we love them.”

In 2021, there were an estimated 107,622 deaths nationwide due to drug overdose, according to provisional data gathered by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. That is a 15% increase from 2020’s 93,655 recorded overdose deaths, which at the time was very alarming considering that itself was a 30% jump from the 71,000 reported overdose deaths in 2019. The numbers keep escalating as the years pass, breaking the hearts of family members throughout the country who hoped their loved ones would one day reach the road to recovery. 

A look at the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office Drug Overdose Dashboard shows that this year alone, there has been 188 drug overdose deaths in the county. 82 of those deaths involved opioids, 68 deaths involved fentanyl, and 67 deaths involved methamphetamine. 

Multiple studies from the likes of the CDC and the Washington Post report that Indian Country has been hit by the opioid epidemic the hardest, claiming that from 2006-2014 Natives were 50% more likely to die from an opioid overdose than any other race in the country. Those reputable sources also released a disclaimer stating those statistics, though high, are still more than likely under reported due to a number of factors. Most misreporting stems from hospitals and coroners indicating the incorrect race on the death certificates of overdose victims. 

And thanks to in-depth reporting from Tulalip News’ own Micheal Rios, he uncovered that there have been approximately 20 OD deaths on the Tulalip reservation since 2020.

“Natives have a higher rate of substance use disorder (SUD),” said Kali Joseph, the Tulalip ODMAP Project Coordinator. “The overdose rate amongst Native people have been on the rise since the year 2000. Even in Snohomish County, the rate of fentanyl overdoses is becoming epidemic levels and continuing to rise. It’s been really taking a toll on the communities. So many people have lost loved ones to overdose that it’s hard to find support, but when we hold community events like this, it’s a place to come together and it allows us to heal together.”

An important and healing gathering took place on the last day of August at the Tulalip Dining Hall. Hosted by Tulalip ODMAP and Tulalip Family Services, the event brought together the local recovery community and the Tulalip citizenship for National Overdose Awareness Day. 

“Overdose Awareness Day is important to the community because it helps break the stigma,” stated Tulalip Family Services Chemical Dependency Professional, Donna Gray. “It helps the people who are struggling, it provides support and understanding to their family members. And hopefully, it puts enough compassion and understanding out there for someone who’s really struggling and will encourage them to reach out for help.”

Held every year on August 31, National Overdose Awareness Day presents an opportunity for communities to raise awareness about the opioid and fentanyl epidemic while also taking time to honor the loved ones who we lost to overdose. 

Tribal member and recovering addict, Alisha Sua expressed, “I think there needs to be more events like this to help get information out there about this issue because there’s so many people dying from overdosing, so I think the more knowledge we have about it, the better off we’ll be.”

There were a number of fun activities at the event including a dunk tank, an arts and crafts station, as well as a raffle giveaway. Upon signing in, the participants received a Narcan kit to take home to utilize in case of an overdose emergency situation, which could ultimately help save a life. 

Said Kali, “Narcan is a medicine that is an opioid antagonist, so it reverses opioid overdoses. It can save lives and has saved many lives. We think that carrying a Narcan kit, even if you don’t struggle with SUD, is being a good relative because you can always be a bystander if an overdose incident happens. It can really save someone’s life, so we encourage people to get a Narcan kit. That’s why ODMAP has an incentive program for the Narcan, to get it out there and hopefully get it in every home in the community.”

Alisha added, “I like the awareness and the Narcan distributions happening out at the tribe, so more people are aware of possible ways to help people in a bad situation. We’re fortunate enough to be in a location that provides Narcan because I know that other states do not provide it. I like being able to get to it because you never know when you’re going to need it and it’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.” 

Those in attendance also got the chance to place a painted handprint on a large banner in memory of those whose lives were taken far too soon by addiction. Written next to the handprints were the names of each those individuals.

“We have community members who showed up today who have lost a loved one to overdose and they’ll put a handprint on our banner, it helps us acknowledge them,” Kali expressed. “I feel like it makes the folks who lost a loved one to overdose not feel alone and not feel like they’re the only ones who have experienced that loss. It goes back to the holistic health and how everything comes full circle, and that we as a community are taking action to heal from generational trauma. This is us being responsible for our loved ones who are struggling with SUD. If we work together collectively, we’ll be a strong united front. That’s why we say hope together, heal together.”

For more information, help, and additional resources please do not hesitate to reach out to Tulalip ODMAP at (360) 716-4773 or Tulalip Family Services at (360) 716-4400. And if you’re a Tulalip community member and would like to receive a free Narcan kit, please call or text (360) 722-2255 or visit www.tulaliptribalcourt-nsn.gov/ProgramsAndServices/ODMAP 

It’s huckleberry harvest time!

swədaʔx̌ali is a sustained effort between a Tulalip Tribes and U.S. Forest 
Service partnership.

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

For thousands of years, huckleberry has served as an important food, medicine, and trade good to the Coast Salish peoples. Mountain huckleberry is most abundant in the middle to upper mountain elevations, and favors open conditions following disturbances like fire or logging. Prior to European colonization, Native peoples managed ideal harvesting locations by using fire and other traditional means to maintain huckleberry growth for sustainable picking.

In 2011, the Tulalip Tribes began working cooperatively with the U.S. Forest Service to sustain huckleberries at a 1,280-acre parcel of land, 4,700 feet above elevation in the upper Skykomish River watershed. This particular location is one of several co-stewardship areas throughout the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest where Tulalip collaborates with the Forest Service to preserve and maintain important cultural resources. 

“The huckleberry co-stewardship work is one of the ways we are partnering with the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest to help sustain huckleberries on the forest, and ensure that tribal members will continue to have the opportunity to gather important resources and practice traditions central to their culture,” said Tulalip Environmental Policy Analyst, Libby Nelson, back in 2016. “Treaty rights encompass more than an opportunity to pick berries, hunt game or harvest fish. Having a meaningful role on the ground, in the stewardship of these resources, helps reconnect tribal peoples to these lands and the teachings of their ancestors.”

Named swədaʔx̌ali, Lushootseed for ‘Place of Mountain Huckleberries’, this end of summer destination gives Tulalip tribal members an opportunity to walk in the steps of their ancestors and harvest the highly prized mountain huckleberry. The official announcement that the berry bounty at swədaʔx̌aliι was ripe and ready for picking came from our forestry program manager, Nick Johnson, on August 24. 

“The huckleberries are ripe. The gate to swədaʔx̌ali now has a combination lock on it to enable tribal access. To get the combination of the lock please call the Admin Building front desk at 360-716-4160,” Nick’s announcement read. “After your party has gone through the gate please lock it behind you, so that any non-tribal groups don’t enter and potentially end up getting stuck behind a locked gate. The road has some deep-water bars where you’ll probably want a high-clearance vehicle to get through. Also the new gate is heavy and can take some effort to close and lock in place.”

An excellent source of antioxidants, both vitamin A and B, huckleberries are great for promoting a healthy metabolism.

Northwest mountain huckleberries generally ripen in the late summer and can be picked into the early fall. Huckleberry, well-known for boosting the immune system and being rich in antioxidants, has always had a strong relationship to the area’s Indigenous cultures. Coast Salish tribes consider the huckleberry to be an important dietary staple because of its medicinal properties and sweet, delicious taste. 

“Huckleberry is a food and medicine to our people,” explained Tulalip elder Inez Bill. “Our ancestors visited certain areas for gathering these berries. They knew where the berries were growing, what companion plants were growing there too, and how to use them. 

“Through the teachings of how we value, take care of and utilize our environment, we pass down our history and traditions, and what is important to the cultural lifeways of our people,” she continued. “This connection to the land enables us to know who we are as a people. It is a remembrance. Today, it is not only important that we continue the struggle to uphold our treaty rights, but we need to be involved in taking care of those resources our culture depends on so they will be available to future generations.” 

swədaʔx̌ali is a prime example of how Tulalip is diligently working to reclaim traditional areas. Stemming directly from the Point Elliot Treaty, which secured claims to gather roots and berries in all open and unclaimed land, the ‘Place of the Mountain Huckleberries” is clear expression of Tulalip’s sovereignty.

Embracing that sovereignty is every tribal member who journeys to this ancestral harvesting area and practices their cultural traditions that continue to be passed on from one generation to the next. The mountain huckleberry is intimately tied with traditional Tulalip lifeways and culture. 

Historically providing an end of summer harvest opportunity, the journey to swədaʔx̌ali strengthens a deep connection to the land.  Nearly 5,000 feet up, in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, berry pickers are completely immersed in the grand splendor that is the Pacific Northwest. Epic views of luscious, green-filled forestry, towering mountains, and clear waterways can be mesmerizing.

“It was a beautiful, uplifting experience. Once we hit the forest, where there were no buildings, no cars, no people, just trees…my spirit soared,” shared annual huckleberry harvester Maria Rios. “I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to speak my language, but that is only a piece of my culture. Berry picking feels natural, like I’ve always done it. The smells are intoxicating. The sounds are beautiful, from the buzzing bugs and chirping birds to the gentle breeze rustling the huckleberry leaves. These are the meaningful experiences that we all need to share in.”

“Oh my god. What a great day in the mountains!” added first time swədaʔx̌ali visitor Lena Hammons, who ventured up the mountain cautiously with her companion Jamie Sheldon. “This was my first time out gathering since I was a little girl. Definitely my first time participating in the tribal harvest. It was awesome listening to the laughter, trying to fill my bucket with huckleberries and wild blueberries. Was fortunate to get some awesome devil’s club, too, which makes my truck smell amazing. We got to wash our faces in the river on the way down. The entire experience was so healing and filled my spirit with love. All our people need to experience the beauty of swədaʔx̌ali.”

 Mountain huckleberry season is short, lasting only a few weeks between August and September. The sought after super food and medicine ranges in color from red to deep blue to maroon. They are similar to a blueberry in appearance and much sweeter than a cranberry, with many people rating huckleberries as the tastiest of the berry bunch. The gate to swədaʔx̌ali will only remain accessible to Tulalip membership for a few more weeks, so don’t miss the opportunity to harvest and take in breathtaking views, while expressing your inherent tribal sovereignty.

Huckleberry Health Benefits:

  • Huckleberries are full of antioxidants, compounds that are essential for improving the health of numerous systems within the body, while also preventing the development of serious health issues.
  • An excellent source of vitamin A and B, huckleberries are great for promoting a healthy metabolism which in turn helps reduce the risk of stroke. They are also known to help stave off macular degeneration as well as viruses and bacteria.
  • Huckleberries are associated with lowering cholesterol; protecting against heart diseases, muscular degeneration, glaucoma, varicose veins, and ulcers.
  • Huckleberries are an excellent source of iron which helps build new red blood cells and helps fatigue associated with iron deficiency.
  • High in vitamin C, huckleberries protect the body against immune deficiencies, cardiovascular diseases, prenatal health problems, and eye diseases.

Native American Fitness Council empowers local fitness leaders

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

The Native American Fitness Council (NAFC) was established in 2004 with the mission of empowering Native Americans through exercise education. The NAFC cofounders recognized a need for knowledgeable, passionate, and experienced Native American fitness instructors, but their vision didn’t stop there. These dedicated professionals developed programs that teach people to train other Natives in proper exercise and healthy lifestyles.

Today, NAFC has educated and inspired thousands of individuals to become positive role models in their communities. Tulalip was fortunate to receive their one-of-a-kind, culturally relevant approach to Native health during a two-day fitness camp hosted at our local youth center on August 4th and 5th

“The Fitness Council chose Tulalip as one of only four northwest tribes to help implement their vision of learning traditional games and exercises in an effort to ignite a spark for new fitness leaders within the local community,” said Erik Kakuska (Zuni Pueblo), western tribal diabetes project specialist. “These traditional games ranged from Eskimo Olympics, like the seal pull and seal carry, to the plains version of field hockey, better known as shinny.

“Our goal is to incorporate a great deal of functionality into all our workouts, so the youth learn proper form and alignment when they’re running, jumping, and really playing any popular sport,” he added. “The last two days have been filled with all kinds of activities that encourage the kids to find the fun in the game. Visiting tribal communities across the nation, we recognize that a lot of our culture was lost. It’s important to reteach that culture to the best of our abilities, and a part of that is teaching the value of keeping yourself healthy. Not only with your physical, but also with your mental.”

In true collaborative fashion, the NAFC worked side by side with Tulalip’s own diabetes care and prevention teams and representatives from youth services to make the multi-day fitness camp run as smoothly as possible. The shear quality of garden-fresh breakfasts and nutrition filled lunches cooked up by chef Brit Reed was almost as impressive as the 30 or so adolescents who went back for plate after plate. Filling up on much needed fuel for their mind, body and spirits as they engaged in a variety of A/C chilled, indoor games and even more sun soaked outdoor exercises in 80+ degree temperature. 

It’s no secret that as an ethnic group, Native Americans are hit the hardest, per capita, by several life shortening risk factors, such as obesity, hypertension and diabetes. Then there’s the recent engagement of our young people with that homicidal maniac Fentanyl. A dark topic that needs a brighter spotlight shed on it for sure, but we’ll save that for another time.

Breaking news! All these debilitating diseases can come to a screeching halt by simply making healthier decision on a routine basis. Wild, right? Well, the even better news is that there are those among Gen Z who recognize this truth and desire to break the stereotypes that depict their people as unhealthy. Two such lean, mean fighting against the diabetes machine tribal members were willing to share their fitness camp experience. 

“What I’ve enjoyed is that all the activities we’ve done aren’t really hard to do, like anyone can participate and still go at their own pace,” said 16-year-old Ryelon Zackuse. “I’ve had some coaches who’ve been really rude or loud trying to make a point and that makes some people want to give up. But the coaches and instructors here were sensitive to our people’s abilities and took it slow to make sure everyone understood the motions and rules of the games. Eating good foods and being active is important to me because I have goals I want to achieve through sports and I can’t achieve those things if I’m eating junk food all the time. Its pretty simple really, if you stop treating your body well, then eventually your body will stop treating you well.”

“My favorite parts of the camp were learning to play traditional games from other tribes across the country, like when we went onto the ball field and played shinny. Not only did we learn to play a new game, but they showed us some simple tips to make sure we were engaging our cores and keeping our hips in alignment while running,” added 17-year-old Samara Davis. “I’ve really enjoyed the past couple days, being with so many of my peers and just having fun outside. It’s important for all our people, the youngest to the elders, to know the importance of daily movement.

“Personally, I love the way fresh fruits and vegetables taste, so it was cool being in an environment where we were provided with good, nutritional foods,” she continued while snacking on an apricot. “Healthy habits, whether its eating or exercise, is all about consistency. Once you’ve learned the habits, just keep doing them. That’s how we become elders.”

The showcase of Tulalip physical talent ranged from flexing agility and dexterity with a balloon tied around their ankles while attempting stomp the balloon of another player, to demonstrating nimbleness and light on their feet juke moves in a hybrid version of dodge ball, except they used water-soaked sponges on the hot summer day. Two days filled with exercise, education, an abundance of health and nutrition advice, traditional games from across Indian Country, and many memories made for the what the Native American Fitness Council are dubbing community fitness leaders.

“Our team believes if the kids see us as adults having a good time and doing our best to demonstrate good fun sportsmanship in winning and losing, while embracing simple traditions like coming together to share in wonderful meals where the kids can share their experiences, then we all benefit and win,” explained Veronica ‘Roni’ Leahy, diabetes care and prevention manager

“Our health clinic wins in the sense our program engages with the youth of Tulalip by delivering the best we can offer, and gives us chances to build long-lasting, positive relationships. The youth of Tulalip wins by having opportunities to be trained by some of the best trainers in Indian Country, not to mention experience traditional foods and the making of traditional medicines, like sore muscle salves. It really was so amazing to witness all the joy and laughter from simple fun and games that brought us all together. 

“We look forward to a time when we can offer this again, but on a larger scale,” added Roni. “So many people of all ages could really learn and enjoy these expert trainers and have so much fun in the process. Definitely one of the best events our program has offered.”

Tulalip Healing to Wellness Court recognized as National Mentor Court

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

In recognition of outstanding service to the treatment community, the Tulalip Healing to Wellness Court Tulalip, WA is hereby recognized as a member of the 2022-2024 National Mentor Court Network by NADCP’s Drug Court Institute and The Bureau of Justice Assistance

On the afternoon of June 27, the courtroom at the Tulalip Justice department was filled with multiple people, some hailing from as far away as Arizona. On the hottest day of the year so far, many were in splendid spirits and thankful to be in the comfort of the almighty A/C. About six of those individuals were especially in a good mood, as they are currently on a journey to becoming the best version of themselves, fighting hard to stay on the road to recovery. And thanks to the Tulalip Healing to Wellness Court, they are seeing successful results. 

One by one they approached the stand and the first question the judge asked was, ‘how many clean days do you have?’ Ranging anywhere from 36 days to 265 days clean, each person received a resounding and well-deserved round of applause by the entire courtroom when they revealed the amount of days they have remained sober. 

The clients then reflected on the past week with Judge Peter Boome. The judge let the clients know if they were in-compliance, and together they discussed all of the weekly tasks the clients have completed, or were meant to complete, such as community service hours, check-in’s with their advisors and team, court-mandated essays, and UA’s.

 A few of these individuals, who are just beginning their recovery journey, were experiencing the Healing to Wellness Court’s proceedings for the first time, and this appearance served as either an observation day or an opt-in day. Others have long been participants of the wellness court and were celebrating upwards of hundreds of days clean, that were acquired with the assistance of the Tribe’s wellness court. If the client was 100% in-compliance, they were rewarded with an incentive of their choosing.

Observing the wellness court in-action, was Susan Alameda, the Project Director of the National Drug Court Institute. Once the proceedings were finished, Susan presented an engraved plaque to the tribal court, recognizing the Healing to Wellness Court as an official member of the National Mentor Court Network. 

This is the second two-year term in a row that the Tulalip Healing to Wellness Court received this esteemed title. The title allows other courthouses throughout the country, that are looking to improve or begin their own wellness courts in their respective communities, the opportunity to visit and learn from Tulalip’s model. 

Said Susan, “At the National Drug Court Institute, we say that these programs are about saving lives. I believe that is absolutely true. There’s an approach to these programs, especially Tulalip’s Healing to Wellness Court, it’s very rooted in community, very rooted in science and research. When you think about families who are able to stay together, or to be reunited, people who turn their lives around from substance abuse and have a second chance, to me, that’s life saving. When they get all that fog out of their system, and they can see themselves and all the things they want to achieve, they become a new person. That is such a beautiful thing to see.”

She continued, “This particular wellness program now has the prestige title of being a mentor court, which is one of very few mentor courts throughout the country. We take great honor in recognizing this court for all of its achievements. The staff played a big role to begin and continue carrying out this program, and [the judges] have been very dedicated, as well as all those who have come before. To be called a mentor court, you really have to adhere to some high standards. And through that, you have the opportunity to play a role in helping shape other courts that are interested in doing something like what’s been going on here.”

The Tulalip Tribes and the Tulalip Justice department first introduced the Healing to Wellness Court at the start of 2017 as an alternative path to the road to recovery for it’s tribal membership. As the heroin and opioid epidemic continues to escalate, skyrocketing in Native America since the pandemic, the tribal Wellness Court program looks to continue to be a source for the people as a means to get clean and escape the battle of addiction. 

The tribe tailored the wellness court to meet the needs of their people, and implemented community and cultural work, or ‘give-back hours’, as a requirement to complete the program. And thereby helped re-instill traditional values in many of their clients as well as helping them get re-acclimated back into the community. 

In addition to having a strong team of professionals by their side, consisting of judges, attorneys, tribal courthouse officials, TPD officers, drug counselors, and recovery specialists, the client is also reunified with their families, friends, and community along the way. And with a strong support system and a return to traditional Tulalip lifeways, the client has a great chance of completing the 18-24 monthlong program and maintaining their sobriety once they graduate from the Healing to Wellness Court. 

Susan presented the plaque to Tulalip Chairwoman, Teri Gobin, who stated, “I would like to thank you on behalf of the Tulalip Tribes. It’s a true honor for our court system. I also want to thank Judge Bass, who was there since the beginning to help bring this forward. And all of the other judges, lawyers, staff, supportive staff, and everyone who has been involved. It’s an honor to receive this prestigious honor for our court system.”

In attendance for the special recognition, and taking note of the court’s proceedings, were representatives of the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe who are in the planning phase of opening their own reservation-based wellness court. The Muckleshoot Wellness Court coordinator, Henry Carranza, is anticipating a ribbon-cutting ceremony as early as September, but noted that a lot of work is still required before they’re able to hold their first hearing. 

“A lot of the things happening here at the Tulalip Healing to Wellness Court, we’re going to borrow and implement,” Henry said. “We’re looking to get as much information that we can get and use it for our court. The whole transformation of helping others and watching them turn their lives around will be so worth it. Here at Tulalip, everybody has the same goal of helping the individual turn their life around, everybody works together to help that one person, I think that’s the key.”

The mentor court title will remain in effect through 2024, where if eligible, the courthouse can once again apply to be a member of the National Mentor Court Network and can continue to lead by example for wellness courts nationwide. 

While wiping tears from her eyes, Teri expressed, “I think about everybody’s lives that it’s changed – seeing the difference in what has happened with our people. It makes a difference having everybody surrounding you, supporting you. It’s like the medicine wheel. We’re making sure they are whole all the way around, but also keeping them accountable for that first year. I want to thank you for this honor on behalf of our court and the staff who made this possible.”

Supporting each other through grief and loss

By Shaelyn Smead, Tulalip News

With a total of around 164 deaths from January 1, 2019 to June 13, 2022 within the Tulalip Tribes community, Director of Community Health Verna Hill, and Community Health Nurse, Margarett Agudelo, recognize how much of an issue the rising death toll within the Tulalip community is. Averaging 45-50 deaths per year, with varying reasoning for these deaths, they wanted to find ways to help the community. 

“We want to create a space where people can come and be heard.” Margarett said.

That space is a grief support group to help assist with the amount of loss. The group is called Support Circle and serves as a safe place for community members and their families who have lost a loved one, to join together and support one another through their grief and loss. The loosely structured group is designed to create a relaxed atmosphere and a fluid space for exercises, possible art therapy, and simple conversation.

In their efforts to help, Margarett and Verna began sending out grievance cards to the impacted families. A practice that typically isn’t seen within tribal communities, they initiated the effort to help show support to families during such a hard time. They wanted to let the community know that their loved one’s life meant something, and they will honor them, even if it’s with a simple card. 

Grief is such a complex and debilitating feeling. And even though people experience grief in many different ways, it is often a long time before anyone can start to feel any level of normalcy. Without any additional mental and emotional support, that journey often can be a much longer one. 

The American Psychological Association listed several steps that a person can take when experiencing loss: talking about the death of your loved one, accepting and acknowledging your feelings, taking care of yourself and your family, reaching out and helping other dealing with loss, and remembering to celebrate the lives of your loved ones. All of these steps can be taken and assisted with in the new support group. 

Knowing and understanding the importance of getting help is essential, and it can help keep yourself from traveling down a path of unhealthy habits and destructive outlets. 

The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation released an article stating, “There is a relationship between grief and substance abuse in a bidirectional way: people with complicated grief have a higher risk of substance abuse, and people with SUD (Substance Use Disorder) have a higher incidence of loss-related experiences such as death of a loved one and loss of significant relationships.” 

In accordance with this information, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) disclosed that in 2019, 20.4 million Americans battled with substance abuse disorder, with the CDC reporting 70,630 reports of drug overdose related deaths that same year. 

“Death is exceptionally painful. And people have to talk about it. If you have a safe place you can go, where you can support each other, and be there for each other, and make that happen, maybe we can avoid some of those destructive habits.” Margarett said.

One of the Support Circle attendees talked about how the death of her mother was one of the most heartbreaking experiences of her life. She spoke of the days when even the distractions she used couldn’t supplement the grief she was feeling. 

A variety of stories were shared, similar and contrasting to each other. Every person was able to share what they’ve been through, and the mourning that they’ve felt and still continue to endure. Finding someone to share your experiences with, and knowing that you’re not alone in these hardships brings a sense of comfort that is often hard to find during these times. 

With this vicious cycle of grief and substance abuse, you have to wonder what sort of measures the group leaders have taken to fight this. The Support Circle team traveled to California to learn materials to better prepare them for the group and help guide this community and its grief. The Curricula is established from grief counselor, author, and creator of the Centers For Loss and Life Transition Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt, called: ‘Understanding Your Grief’ and ‘Understanding Your Grief Companion Journal’. 

Margarett and Verna talked about their new understanding of grief. They know that with complex grief, there is an importance to get help and seek out therapy. But also, with any level of grief, the importance of having a support system. “We learned so much from the course. The idea is that people have to feel their grief, and they have to walk through that process. We’re not treating them, it’s not a medical problem. It doesn’t need a diagnosis, it doesn’t need medicine, it doesn’t need my advice, people just need to be heard. We just have to be there for them” Margarett said. 

At every meeting, each new member is given a copy of each of the books so that they can either work on it with the Support Circle, or have them in the comfort of their own home. 

When discussions surrounding mental health come about, it is important to understand how it also directly affects our community. We have to find a healthy and honorable way to acknowledge the lives that have been lost, and find a way to move forward for ourselves and our community. 

If you or anyone you know is suffering with grief or loss, and think the Support Circle will be helpful, please contact Margarett at 360-926-3764, or Verna at 360-722-6819. The group takes place on Mondays from 12:00 p.m.-2:00 p.m., and Thursdays 6:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m., in the Mission Highlands Community Building at 8226 21st Ave NW Tulalip WA 98271. Sign up for the Support Circle is not necessary and drop-ins are welcome. 

Margarett finishes with, “I will be here. Even if no one else shows up, I will be here for whoever wants to come.”

Mother’s Milk: The importance of breastfeeding

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News; images courtesy Indigenous Milk Medicine Week

As Tulalip’s membership continues to increase, growing from approximately 3,600 in 2003 to 5,100 in 2022, so too does the number of newborn babies being enrolled into the Tribe every year. This baby boom, estimated at 120 per year, led to the Tribe investing in a whole host of Community Health related programs and services geared towards creating positive health outcomes for our youngest generation.

One such program is Maternal Child Health, wherein we find health educator Erika Queen of Alaska’s Inupiaq tribe. She has been working with moms and babies for nearly seventeen years. A focus of hers is helping our Tulalip mothers understand the importance of breastfeeding. 

With Tulalip’s baby boom in full swing, it’s a critical time to understand just how important mom’s life-giving milk truly is. This may seem obvious to some readers, but recent statistics show the practice of following the CDC’s recommendation of exclusively breastfeeding until baby is six months is in huge decline. In fact, by this standard, just 25% of infants at 6-months-old are receiving the litany of benefits that come from mother’s milk.

Making the issue even more disheartening is the notion Native mothers and babies have one of the lowest exclusive breastfeeding rates at six months of any race or ethnicity in the nation. For our Native communities, breastfeeding is a public health issue. Because of the enduring health benefits breastfeeding provides, community leaders and medical professionals are making a concerted effort to reconnect Native women to the cultural tradition of breastfeeding. This is where Erika’s vital role as a health educator and advocate for both mom and baby comes in.

“The most important reasons for nursing your baby is that you want to. If you don’t want to do it, that is 100% your choice, I only advocate that people make that choice after considering the pros and cons of all your options. I’ve cried along too many parents who were informed that they “couldn’t” or “shouldn’t” breastfeed, only to find out that the reason given was due to that person/provider’s lack of understanding or lack of knowledge,” shared Erika.  

  “There is a myriad of reasons that show continuing to grow your baby from your body after birth is important, and that list keeps growing: lower rates of disease for baby, reduced risks of cancers, asthma, type 1 diabetes, ear and tummy infections, SIDS, and NEC (in preterm babies). Lower rates of disease for the birthing parent, too. Breastfeeding can help lower a mother’s risk of high blood pressure, ovarian cancer, breast cancer, and type 2 diabetes.

  Women who practice breastfeeding and meet their feeding goals also have a protective factor against postpartum mental health problems. This means that telling someone to stop a successful breastfeeding relationship for their mental health is actually counterproductive. It also doesn’t completely prevent mental health issues postpartum – it just means it lessens them and removing breastfeeding may actually make those problems worse. 

  Mother’s milk is exactly what is needed by almost all babies. Its more than food alone, it aids our immune system in many ways – from the white cells and immune factors fed to baby (such as after baby’s saliva tells their nursing parent’s areola that baby was exposed to a germ at daycare) to feeding very specific gut bacteria that eat only oligosaccharides from human milk (not found elsewhere) – according to UCLA, 70% of the immune system is in the gut. 

  Breastfeeding/nursing can be an outstanding parenting tool.  The act of breastfeeding releases hormones in parent and child that help to calm and connect – the love hormone, oxytocin – which can bring a tantrum to an end, heal more booboos than all the Band-Aids in the world, and build a bond and a relationship that is both strong and durable.

  Science can tell us even more reasons that feeding babies the milk from their parent (or another human) is the ideal, but science doesn’t begin to understand how breastfeeding can connect us back to our ancestors, renew our cultures, and deeply feel human in the face of trauma, and more than anything, it doesn’t explain how it feels to look at your chubby baby smiling up at you with milk running down their chin rolls and think, “I made all of that.”

I think the most important reason to nurse your baby is that you can and you want to,” added the local health educator. “I nursed my baby because I knew it was the best possible nutrition, I knew it was more than just food, and I knew that it is how my ancestors fed their babies for eons.”

If you are a new or expectant mother, or a mom multiple times over with a baby and simply want to ask questions about breastfeeding in a safe place with a health educator dedicated to a successful outcome, then please contact Erika Queen directly. She is here to assist you and eagerly awaits your questions. Her contact info is as follows: Erika Queen, Maternal Child Health Educator. Cell number 360-913-2382 (text OK), E-mail Equeen@tulaliptribes-nsn.gov

Tulalip Family Wellness Court celebrates first program graduate

By Kalvin Valdillez

“I’m inspired by my own success,” were the words shared by proud mother of young Tulalip tribal members. “I just hit thirteen months of clean time on April 2nd!” Over a year ago, this parent, whose name will be kept anonymous due to legal reasons, thought an accomplishment of this proportion impossible. 

To completely escape the grasp of her addiction, after fighting hard for so many years to kick her habit. To be reunited with, and granted full-custody of, her child who was placed in the care of beda?chelh – that may have in fact been next to impossible over a year ago, or at least felt very close to it.

This determined mother, however, did not give up. While attempting to navigate the childcare system on her own, she suffered a relapse. Around this time, she also discovered she was with child. Now, she not only had to fight for her own wellness and for her kiddo in the system, but she also had to fight for her unborn child to remain in her custody after the birthing process. 

When all the odds seemed stacked against her, a new program debuted in the Tulalip community, and she was one of the first to sign-up and take-part in the now award-winning tribal-based program.

“I remember looking over their pamphlet and thinking I didn’t need the help,” she admitted. “But, at the same time I knew I couldn’t go through the court system by myself either. I remember reading that pamphlet over and over, and Amy [Lettig] (TOCLA Parent Advocate Attorney) telling me about this new program and that I qualified for it. I didn’t know what else to do. My goal was always to get my child back, and so I turned to her and said help me get there.”

Based on the success of the Tulalip Healing to Wellness Court, minus the criminal and time-serving element, the Family Wellness Court was established in March 2020. The first-of-its-kind court system is 100% volunteer-based and is aimed to support, encourage and assist tribal parents, or parents of tribal members, attain a sober and healthy lifestyle to ultimately reunite them with their children who have an open beda?chelh case. 

“We’re one of the first in the nation to do this as a tribe because we want our people to be healthy, happy and successful,” said Melissa Johnson, Family Wellness Court Coordinator. “We want people to understand it’s different than the standard dependency proceedings that parents involved with beda?chelh go through. With more frequent review hearings in the drug court model, they get a chance to show their progress in real-time. They tend to get their kids back faster in this type of program because of the intensive case management and the added support.”

Melissa continued, “They have to have an open dependency with beda?chelh. And if they want to work on getting their kids back, they can benefit from our team approach. I think there is an advantage to the team approach – recognizing the successes, strengths and any issues that may arise in real time, rather than waiting. Because with the current dependency proceedings, months can go by between hearings. I think with Family Wellness Court, the courtroom becomes a therapeutic environment. You see that relationship with the judge and the team, it’s not adversarial at all. It’s so much different from when you go to court, and everything seems scary. It’s an alternative to the current dependency proceedings.”

The team approach plays a major role in the Family Wellness Court and in each participant’s recovery journey. The team consists of multiple professionals including Tribal courthouse officials, attorneys, beda?chelh representatives, counselors and recovery specialists. The idea is that with everybody meeting on a regular basis and on the same page, the client will stay in-compliance and will make positive progress in maintaining their sobriety, if they know exactly what their team expects from them.

It has been one year since the Family Wellness Court held their first hearing and multiple parents are now electing to participate in the intensive, personalized program. And furthermore, many are seeing positive results and are well on their way to reunification with their children.  

“Once I found the Family Wellness Court, I felt like they actually cared,” expressed the anonymous mother. “I know that the biggest part was getting to treatment and with the help of Family Wellness Court, I was able to do that. The assignments kept me busy and focused on my recovery. It was an amazing journey with tribal court. I felt like they cared about me and the kids, and more importantly what was best for the kids. They were encouraging me the whole time. They enjoyed seeing my progress and I felt like I was doing a really good job. It really worked for me. If you do the work, and you follow through with everything, you will be successful.”

On the afternoon of March 30, the Tulalip Family Wellness Court celebrated their very first graduate of the program. The very same mother whose identity will not be released, held the honor of the first person to successfully complete their individualized and intensive plan to recovery and reunification. Through the program she regained custody of her child, she had a healthy pregnancy and delivery, and she is living a completely clean life. The mother obtained housing for herself and her babies, she gained employment and is currently attending college and learning the trade of her choosing. She is also active in her children’s traditions and now has a strong understanding of tribal lifeways, as she completed several ‘give back’ hours and participated in cultural events as a requirement to the Family Wellness Court. 

Her team and those presiding over her case were moved to tears during the graduation ceremony as they gathered in the tribal courtroom and met with the mother over Zoom. Due to both the specifics of her case and the worldwide pandemic, she was able to participate in the program remotely while at a treatment center. The courthouse sent her a cake, a number of gifts and an official certificate of completion, which she opened and enjoyed during the ceremony. Her mother, father and oldest child tuned-in to take part in the celebration. And through wavering voices and teary eyes, they shared their awe when reflecting how far she’s come in just a year. Members of her team also took a moment to express their joy in seeing her complete the program.  

Chori Folkman, the Children’s Attorney for TOCLA shared, “Seeing her success today reminds me that the Family Wellness Court process at Tulalip can reunify families – even when it seems hopeless at times. Or a parent, who might have a history with a significant addiction, they can overcome it and get their children back. Even if it’s been a long time since they had that child in their care. Even when it’s really late in the case and it feels like it might be too late. She was able to commit to becoming clean and sober and she was able to get placement of her child and close her case. It shows me that these supports really do work to bring families back together.”

Tribal member Josh Fryberg and two of his daughters offered medicine through traditional song to the mother, as well as some heartfelt and encouraging words. The judge, filled with excitement, showered the mother with applause, praise and compliments, and also a few inside jokes while she recalled all the memories they made together along the way. 

The first Family Wellness Court graduate stated, “The Family Wellness Court made me feel like even if I really failed, or if had a hiccup along the way, they were going to help me get back up and encourage me to keep moving forward. And ever since I came to that realization, I just made sure that I did everything I was supposed to do for the Family Wellness Court, so that I could graduate the program, keep my kids and get my child back.”

Continuing she shared a few words to other parents who are currently battling with an addiction, “The Family Wellness Court will help you get the help that you need. Even though you might not see that you need help right now. They will work with you to make sure you get that help, so that you can be better parents and so you can get your kids back and be good parents to them.”

If you or a loved one is ready for a new approach to sobriety and reunification, and willing to take on the intensive but evidence-based model to regain custody of your child, please contact Melissa at (360) 716-4764 for more details. 

Problem Gambling program hosts evening of laughter and celebration

By Shaelyn Hood, Tulalip News

On Saturday, March 26th, the Problem Gambling Program put on a special dinner event, Reclaiming Our Connections. It was a night of celebration for the tribal recovery community and those in recovery from gambling addiction.

The night consisted of drums and ceremonial songs, prayers, speakers that are in recovery, speeches from recovery coaches, and a special guest comedian. Sarah Sense-Wilson, Problem Gambling Coordinator, said “it’s important for us to take a lighthearted look at our lives. Addicts have been through a lot but it’s important for us to remember to laugh and celebrate life.”

The event brought forth a positive environment for a topic that can often be so dark. It was informational, helped spread awareness about addiction, celebrated how far the people in recovery have come, and paid tribute to the staff who work diligently at the Problem Gambling program. 

Sarah gave a special thanks to Natosha Gobin for her tireless efforts with the program and helping other members in the community with their addictions. Natosha shared how she classifies as living a sober life. She spoke about how she could see what addiction has done to people around her, and she didn’t want to risk walking down that same path. One of the major vices she has cut out of her life is alcohol. Using an app to help keep a record of her sobriety has helped keep her on track, and she is now is over 2,000 days sober. 

Participants spoke of how addiction can stem from a traumatic moment in your life, an abusive relationship, or even just small moments over time. How you don’t just have one experience, and suddenly you’re an addict. That it isn’t just about an uncontrollable behavior, but also about the evolution of your own brain chemistry. 

After which, some of the recovery coaches who were in attendance spoke about their own recovery, how they have helped others, and some of the goals that they have. They are currently looking forward to opening a Recovery Café. They have been working diligently with Tulalip Tribes in finding a building, looking for volunteers, and establishing bylaws. They spoke about the goals for the café saying, “this is for any type of addiction. We want to outreach to everyone and have a place where people can come and visit. A sanctuary for people to hang out, have food and drinks supplied. We want to be able to provide additional counseling, crafting and art opportunities, etc.” 

Comedian, Kasey Nicholson wrapped up the event with light-hearted jokes. The roomed filled with laughter as Kasey talked about how Native Americans are often stereotyped, how singing Native ancestral songs has helped him get girlfriends, and how he used to get in trouble growing up on a reservation.

foot, four-panel mural project is complete, the Problem Gambling program and the Healing Lodge plan on displaying it throughout the reservation so others can see the inspiring work that served as medicine to many while on their road to recovery.

Once the evening concluded, gifts were distributed to supporters of the program, and to the speakers. 

It was an important night for the Problem Gambling program. As they continue to grow and develop further, and outreach to more people, they rejoiced in all their efforts and accomplishments. It was an evening filled with compassion, support, and laughter. 

If you are in need of counseling services, are wanting to volunteer, or just have questions about the Problem Gambling program, please contact (360) 716-4304.  

NARCAN distributions ‘about saving lives’

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

Since its formation in late 2020, the dedicated staff of Tulalip’s Overdose Detection Mapping & Application Program (ODMAP) has been hard at work tracking and monitoring overdoses on the reservation. They are focused on promoting a healthy community and providing outreach work through accessible resources for those hit hardest by the opioid crisis.

Through their overdose mapping technology, it’s evident that the Mission Highlands and Silver Village housing projects are the leading overdose hotspots on the reservation. With this invaluable information in mind, the ODMAP team held potential lifesaving NARCAN distributions in both neighborhoods. NARCAN is a fast-acting drug used to temporarily reverse the effects of opioid overdoses. It can prevent death if administered quickly.

“NARCAN saves lives,” said Tashena Hill, ODMAP outreach specialist. “Until we can connect a person suffering from opioid use to treatment, we will wok with individuals, loved ones and concerned members of the community to make sure they are prepared to respond if an overdose does occur. We urge anyone who needs access to NARCAN to attend one of our distributions or, better yet, reach out to us directly so we can review the signs and symptoms of an overdose and how to easily administer NARCAN. The mission of our department, including these free to the public distributions, is all about saving lives.”

How to save lives is a prevailing mission behind so many local, state and federal health departments as the nation comes to grips with yet another pandemic. This one is opioid-based and being super charged by a steady surge in fentanyl-laced street drugs.

According to provisional CDC data released March 16, an estimated 105,752 Americans died from overdoses in the 12-month span ending October 2021 – the highest number of overdose deaths recorded in the United States in a single 12-month period. Bringing the scope more local, Snohomish County logged 232 deaths from overdoses in 2020, which is also the most in recorded history. And if focused solely on the Tulalip membership, the scope reveals there have been at least 16 overdose deaths since the start of 2020.

It is with these sobering statistics in mind that programs like Tulalip’s ODMAP are prioritizing making lifesaving resources assessible and bringing them directly to where they are needed most. By going directly into the neighborhoods at most risk of producing more overdoses, the ODMAP team and their NARCAN distributions are impossible to miss, with their drive-thru like setup and rallying signs to nab the attention of passers-by. 

Their Mission Highlands distribution was held on Valentine’s Day, when twenty-five NARCAN kits were given away. Silver Village’s distribution took place on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, and was even more successful as thirty-plus NARCAN kits were given out. 

“We’re bringing the resources to the people,” said ODMAP project coordinator, Kali Joseph. Armed with her upbeat attitude and ‘NARCAN SAVES LIVES’ sign, she corralled several vehicles as they entered the Silver Village main entrance where they were then greeted by Tashena or Jackson Nahpi. Together they reviewed everything in the Tulalip Pharmacy Narcan Kit and answered any questions that were asked. 

“For the simple fact that NARCAN can save lives, it’s worth having in every Tulalip household. It just furthers the conversation and makes it not a taboo subject. I carry one on myself in any situation, just to have it accessible in case I’m a bystander and it’s needed…because you never know,” shared Kali.

“It’s so important that as a community we destigmatize substance use disorder (SUD) because often times its mistaken as a moral failing or personal choice,” she added. “As Native people, we are overrepresented in SUD and overdoses and things like depression and suicide. A lot of the SUD may stem from impact of intergenerational and historical trauma. There’s a lot of social factors at play as well.”

Normalizing NARCAN and viewing it like an inhaler or EpiPen that can be used as an antidote to revive people from the brink of death is an effortless way of practicing effective harm prevention. NARCAN is a nasal spray. It looks like a common antihistamine and is administered by squirting directly into the nose. It is not dangerous to the person administering it, and it will not hurt anyone who doesn’t have opioids in their system. Plus, anyone administering NARCAN is protected by the Good Samaritan law.

The degree of disclosure at both of ODMAP’s neighborhood NARCAN distributions was perspective altering. Several citizens shared with members of the ODMAP team their experiences, both personal and as witnesses, with opioid overdose and how NARCAN saved the day. One young lady shared she keeps NARCAN at the ready because her mother is a heroin user and fears she’ll find her overdosing one day. Another young man disclosed his partner overdosed in the past and if it weren’t for NARCAN, she probably wouldn’t have made it.

While future distributions are in the works, ODMAP is also considering going door to door in order to reach their goal of having a NARCAN kit in each Tulalip household. In the meantime, if you’re a Tulalip community member and would like to receive a free NARCAN kit please call or text 360-722-2255 or visit www.tulaliptribalcourt-nsn.gov/ProgramsAndServices/ODMAP

Walking through my story part 3: 

Tulalip Problem Gambling program participants shares recovery journey during awareness month

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

“It’s an escape. It’s a high for sure. It’s a risk. I thrived for that high,” recalled recovering gambling addict, Walker. “It wasn’t the win; it was the anticipation of the win. What made it the most destructive addiction I ever known was that I could show up like a regular person and just sit down and all I had to do to make it happen was put money into a machine. It’s such an acceptable thing, but it’s so dangerously addicting. And once people are addicted, it’s really hard to tell that they are. There are so many ways to feed it. You can sell your stuff, you can cash out your 401k, you can get payday loans, you can do all these things in the hope of getting that next high, but because you’re addicted, it’s never enough. Like any addiction, you destroy yourself to feed it.”

An estimated two million American citizens meet the criteria for severe gambling addiction any given year, according to the National Council on Problem Gambling. Although that is only one percent of the entire population, that is still a lot of people who are more-than-likely quietly battling this dangerous disease as well as the many problems that occur as a result of the addiction. 

Walker expressed, “Nobody knew I had a gambling problem. I’d have to make up all these excuses like why my cell phone got shut off. I’d tell all these lies with a smile on my face. I couldn’t control myself. I sold everything I could sell. I just didn’t have anything left and I couldn’t stop. There was no way out. But I maintained my job, I would put myself through all this turmoil and then I would go to work and pretend like everything was okay. There were people who loved me, but they didn’t know I needed help.”

Native Americans are at the highest risk of developing a gambling habit. If you have been following our coverage of National Problem Gambling Awareness month, you may be familiar with the following and shocking statistic. A 2019 study conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol and Related Conditions showed that 2.3% of the entire Indigenous population are fighting a gambling addiction, the highest percentage in the nation. Unfortunately, this three-year old study is the most current research, but after three-years of dealing with the global pandemic, that percentage is expected to be on the rise.

“I’ve had other substance abuse issues in my life,” Walker said. “In my youth I had trouble with marijuana, and in my adulthood, I had trouble with alcohol. I was into drinking pretty heavy, I already started some isolation in my life, I was single at the time. And I just started gambling. It started out pretty innocent, and it just progressed. What was interesting for me, as it progressed, my need for alcohol kind of fell away and gambling took hold. I got to a point where I was still drinking, but gambling became my main addiction. I wouldn’t drink when I gambled, and the insanity of it is, I looked at it as a benefit, as a positive early on.”

He continued, “I was gambling during the week, and it was just so progressive in my life. I went from gambling afterwork to where my weekend routine was getting up, throwing on my clothes and going out to gamble. I would get paid on Friday and I would go to the casino. I would either devastate myself with my losses or I would win. No matter which the case was, I couldn’t wait to get back there on Saturday morning. And my Saturday mornings were spent either trying to keep the high or get back my losses. When I would gamble, it was a reckless cycle. I was going to gamble until it was gone, and I was going to suffer until I could go back again.”

Throughout the month of March, the Tulalip Problem Gambling program takes part in a nationwide initiative known as National Problem Gambling Awareness month and hosts several events and gatherings in the Tulalip community. Originally, the campaign began nearly twenty years ago in response to the amount of sports gambling surrounding the NCAA March Madness college basketball tournament. 

During awareness month, the Problem Gambling program and Tulalip News teamed up to share a series of stories of individuals who utilized and benefited from the program during their recovery journey. Walker is the third individual to share his story about how the Tulalip Family Services Problem Gambling program helped save his life through their intensive outpatient recovery care.

“I first heard about the Tulalip Problem Gambling program, I was just a little bit less than a year in recovery, I had 11 months clean time,” Walker reflected. “A friend of mine was in the program and she told me about her experience with it. I hadn’t heard of it and my background before that was only GA (Gambler’s Anonymous). So, I went into Tulalip Family Services and took an assessment, and I honestly didn’t think they would take me because I had clean time. My perception was that it was for somebody who was just beginning to get help with their addiction. I did my assessment with Robin and was admitted to the intensive outpatient program. That’s where my recovery really took on a bigger meaning for me, I can’t tell you enough my joy in the fact that I began to work on myself. I began to look at my past, my childhood and young adult life, and identified some of the triggers that led me to addictive behavior. 

Right away when I walked through the door, there was an expectation of accountability – that was really big for me. And the homework. We would do in-class assignments but the real tough one for me, that really challenged me, is I had to write a timeline of all my major life events and along that timeline, write-in my addictive cycles. I was able to see that maybe I had some trauma in my life and that would result as the beginning of an addictive cycle.”

The Problem Gambling Program, led by counselors Sarah Sense-Wilson and Robin Johnson, provides a plan to recovery tailored to each individual’s needs while incorporating tribal culture, and a number of fun events and activities throughout the year. Several Problem Gambling participants have experienced a great deal of progress as they worked through the program, alongside individuals who are on a similar journey. Due to all the success stories that are a result of the Tulalip Problem Gambling program, many local tribes are now following their model and building programs on their own reservations to help their membership and fellow community members. 

“Sarah was my counselor and one tool that she taught me was just to weigh everything out,” he shared. “It was how to deal with issues, how to deal with the problems in your life. For me, the main tools I walked away with were how to cope with life, how to avoid triggers, how to deal with triggers, and thinking things through before you encounter them.

There was that, and there was also an exercise that is called ‘Our First Step’, which is a no-excuses, no-reasoning account of our addiction. And what that means is that you don’t put down that you behaved a certain way because…. – you leave out the ‘because’. You just write down what you did. If you committed a crime, you write down you committed that crime. You don’t write down that it was because where you were at in that particular moment of your life, just the facts. It was really stunning – I’m going to come to tears a little bit – it was really stunning to read that back to myself. You don’t want to return to something when you look at it straight in the face and you quit rationalizing it.”

As you can gather, the Tulalip Problem Gambling program has been a reliable source to those attempting to put an end to their gambling addiction, helping those in recovery along their healing journey. Since its establishment, the program has served not only members of the Tulalip tribal community, but non-Natives, who are fighting a gambling addiction and live in our neighboring communities as well.

Said Walker, “I was in the program for a solid two years. I did finish the program, but I am still in contact with them. My life is nothing like it was before.  I was in complete devastation. I lost everything. I had nowhere else to turn. I feel it was the grace of God that gave me recovery, and led me from GA to the Tulalip Problem Gambling program to where I am at today. It’s a completely different life. I am married today, I couldn’t even visualize for myself having a relationship, much less a marriage. And here I am, married to my wife who knows about my addiction. One of the things that recovery at the Tulalip Problem Gambling program taught was don’t keep secrets because secrets just give you an excuse not to work on yourself, not to face it. There’s real power in walking through a door when you are so screwed – there is nobody to understand you – that’s what you believe in your head. But, when you walk into Tulalip Problem Gambling program, there’s people who been there and understand and want to stand with you. That’s where you can have a fresh start. 

You can’t do it on your own when you’re hurting, you’ll resort back to what you believe is going to fix you, which is your addiction. For me, I always felt that I could fix it with another win. The GA programs are really great, but they don’t allow you to talk about other opportunities during an active meeting. I think a lot of people who hear about the Tulalip Problem Gambling program they [assume] that it’s sponsored by tribal funds from the casinos, and they think it’s not good. But it is so the opposite. I encourage those who need that extra help to give themselves a chance, to work on themselves, to recognize that other recovery programs are great for support, but intensive outpatient treatment is what we need because we need to get better, so we don’t return to our addictions.”

The Tulalip Problem Gambling Program is hosting events throughout Problem Gambling Awareness Month, leading up to an in-person dinner event taking place at Tulalip Resort Casino on March 26 at 6:00 p.m.

If you or someone you love is dealing with a gambling addiction, or if you would like to find out more information about Problem Gambling Awareness month, please contact (360) 716-4304

*The following is a more in-depth look at Walker’s journey to recovery in his own words, which were shared and recalled upon through tears and heartbreak. Trigger warning – Walker speaks about serious issues including contemplating suicide.*

It was November of 2017; it was the first time I couldn’t pay my rent and that was a real shock to me. Basically, I fantasized about playing with my whole paycheck before I would even get it. I gambled heavily but I wanted to gamble even more, so I did just that. It had various outcomes and it caught up to me when I couldn’t pay my rent.  I thought I was going to be evicted because I never been in that situation before. 

I went to my landlord and to my parents and told them I had a gambling problem. That was my first step towards recovery, but it wasn’t true. It was false because that was it – that’s all I did, tell them. I got a stay on my rent and got caught up, but by December I was back in the casinos. It went from December, January and February, those three months my addiction took off. I couldn’t keep a paycheck for all those months. 

It got so bad that I couldn’t eat. I didn’t have food on the table. My house was falling all around me. I isolated myself from my friends, family and kids. I wouldn’t let anybody in my house. I couldn’t take care of my dog. Some of my worst memories are using my free play to get a burger and tater tots and bringing it home to split it with my dog. And going to Fred Meyer with change and putting in the [Coinstar] machine so I could buy a bag of potatoes. 

One weekend I went out and did it to myself again and I just lost it. I couldn’t do it again; I was completely out of steam, so I was making plans to take my life. As I was in my bedroom preparing to do just that, I thought to call my parents. I needed to be bailed out and they were able to come through for me by a miracle. That was it for me. That was my reset. I’m so grateful for that. I had to hit a really hard bottom in order to reset.

I was always in a pattern of trying to get back and I was always doing the things that come when you’re addicted to gambling. I was selling my stuff, I was pawning my stuff and trying to get it back out of pawn, I was engaging in high-risk loans. I developed rituals and would only go to one casino, I felt that was the place where I could be successful – it was the Quil Ceda Creek casino and sometimes I would go to the big casino if I was ahead. I didn’t really go to other casinos in the area. I was physically addicted, later when I was trying to find recovery, I slipped a couple times. Finally, I banned myself and that really helped. 

Banning myself from the casinos was huge for me because after I hit bottom, I turned all my finances over to family and I still wasn’t in any recovery program, I just separated myself from cash. My parents would give me forty or sixty bucks and I would just battle – I would drive circles in Everett not knowing what to do. I had a social worker assigned to me because I was going to take my life. I told her one day, “when I’m done, I’m planning to go to the casino”, and she told me that I needed to go to a meeting. That’s when I found GA and later found the Tulalip Problem Gambling program.

GA is nationwide and they have a website where you can find active meetings and you just show up. But the difference for me, between GA and the Tulalip Problem Gambling program, is with GA you show up and there’s support for you, but you have to find the help yourself. Where with the Tulalip Problem Gambling program, I walked through the door, and they helped find the help I needed. They are professionals and there’s accountability, that GA doesn’t offer.

It took me awhile to find the Tulalip Problem Gambling program, but through it I found a better way of life. If there’s one thing I want to say to anybody is that there’s hope. When you’re in your addiction, it’s hard to see that there’s hope – it’s out there. That’s the great thing about the program, Sarah and Robin facilitate a lot of hope through the Tulalip Problem Gambling program.